I Am Malala
by Malala Yousafzai
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What You Will Learn from I Am Malala
Embark on a transformative journey as we delve into the inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai, the advocate for girls’ education in her memoir “I Am Malala.”
In this blog, we explore Malala Yousafzai’s remarkable life, defying odds to become a global symbol of resilience. Her determination and activism inspire millions to fight for education equality.
Join us as we delve into key themes and pivotal moments that shaped Malala’s life, from early activism in Pakistan to surviving a life-threatening attack and ongoing global advocacy. We uncover the transformative impact of her quest for education and justice.
Through analysis and reflections, we explore the profound influence of “I Am Malala” on individuals and societies. Themes of education, gender equality, and the power of voice gain deeper understanding in today’s world.
Get ready to be inspired by Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinary journey in her memoir “I Am Malala.” Together, let us explore her life and enduring legacy as a beacon of hope for a brighter future.
Part 1 – Before The Taliban
Chapter 1: Breaking Boundaries: Malala’s Struggle Against Gender Inequality in Pakistan
Malala Yousafzai begins her journey in Pakistan, a society that undervalues and confines women through societal norms. Since her birth, there has been no celebration for her; only commiseration. “I was a girl in a land where people fire rifles to celebrate the birth of a son, while daughters are concealed behind a curtain, assigned the roles of cooking, cleaning, and childbearing.”
In her neighborhood, Malala formed a friendship with a family on her street. They had a daughter her age and two sons close in age to her younger brother, Khushal. They played cricket together, cherishing their childhood freedom. But Malala knew that as the girls grew older, societal expectations would limit their activities and confine them indoors.
The girls eventually found themselves confined to the kitchen, serving their male relatives. In contrast, boys relished their freedom, while tradition obligated Malala and her mother to always have a male companion with them when going out. Even a 5-year-old brother took on the responsibility of “protecting” their mother, as women were perceived as incapable.
However, Malala was resolute in her refusal to conform. Her father, a progressive supporter, proclaimed, “Malala will have the freedom of a bird.” In her dreams, she imagined reaching the summit of Mount Elum, akin to Alexander the Great. But as she observed her brothers playing, she pondered the constraints imposed on a girl’s freedom.
Chapter 2: The Shackles of Tradition: Life in Barkana and the Oppressive Reign of General Zia-ul-Haq
Malala’s father, Ziauddin, hailed from a large family with one older brother and five sisters. They resided in Barkana, a city known for its extreme primitiveness. Their cramped living conditions in a ramshackle house with a leaky mud roof symbolized the challenges they faced.
In their household, traditional gender roles held firm. The men engaged in work, the boys pursued education, while the women and girls remained confined within their homes. Malala’s father frequently voiced his sorrow over young girls being confined to a future of waiting for marriage, with limited opportunities available to them.
However, the disparities extended beyond education. Malala’s father noticed the unequal treatment within their daily lives. Cream for tea and the distribution of food were divided based on gender, with a preference given to boys. These observations sharpened his awareness of the stark disparities in the treatment of boys and girls.
Pakistan, despite its youth as a nation, experienced a tumultuous history of military coups and power struggles. General Zia-ul-Haq’s rise to power in the 1980s marked a period of Islamization, where the country was transformed into a “proper Muslim nation.” The military defended not only geographical borders but also the ideological boundaries of religion.
Under General Zia’s rule, women’s lives became increasingly restricted. Legal changes diminished the value of a woman’s testimony in court, often leading to unjust outcomes. Women faced hurdles in everyday life, such as requiring male permission to open a bank account. General Zia even imposed restrictions on sports, limiting women’s participation and imposing conservative dress codes.
Chapter 3: A Beacon of Hope: Malala’s Father and the Fight for Education and Freedom
During her mother’s early years, she began attending school at the age of six. However, her time in school was brief, lasting less than half a year before she discontinued before the semester’s conclusion. It was unusual for a girl to receive an education, but her father and brothers supported her in pursuing one. Despite being the only girl in a class of mostly boys, she proudly carried her school books, feeling intellectually superior to them. However, she couldn’t help but envy her female cousins who enjoyed staying at home and playing.
For Malala’s mother, going to school seemed pointless if it only resulted in a life centered around domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning, and raising children. In a moment of frustration, she sold her books, used the money to buy sweets, and never returned to school. It was only when she met Malala’s father that she regretted her decision. He was a man of knowledge, an avid reader who aspired to open his own school. Although she couldn’t read the love poems he wrote for her, she recognized the value he placed on education.
Education was a lifelong dream for Malala’s father, who believed that knowledge and learning were of utmost importance. Despite having no connections or financial resources, he was determined to establish a school. The village school he envisioned was modest, with classes often conducted outdoors under a tree due to limited space. In a country where millions of girls were deprived of education, Malala’s aunts were among them. Her father considered himself fortunate to have the gift of education, even if it meant relieving himself in the field due to the lack of toilets.
He firmly believed that the lack of education was the root cause of Pakistan’s problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to deceive the people, and corrupt administrations to remain in power. He envisioned a school where education would be accessible to all, regardless of wealth or gender. His dream school would have proper classrooms with desks, chairs, a library, computers, and colorful posters on the walls – and most importantly, functional toilets.
Malala’s father worked as an English teacher at a prestigious private college. However, his monthly salary of 1600 rupees was meager, making it difficult to survive and save for a wedding or a house. He grew frustrated with the rigid school curriculum that stifled children’s curiosity and love for learning. He yearned to run his own school, where independent thought, open-mindedness, and creativity would take precedence over blind obedience.
School Opens/Taliban Rocks Up
Driven by their passion for education and a desire to make a difference, Malala’s father and his colleague, Mohammed Naeem Khan, embarked on a courageous journey to open their own school. They painted their school motto on the entrance, committing to build a new era of learning. Inspired by their ancestors’ heroic battles, they urged students to fight ignorance with pens, not swords.
Despite skepticism, the school opened with just three students. Undeterred, they began each day with the national anthem, fostering pride and unity. Financial struggles were constant, but they persevered, and the student count grew gradually.
The rented building housed both the school and the family. In this unique setting, Malala grew up immersed in education, exploring classrooms, sitting in on older students’ classes, and mirroring the teachers’ lessons.
As the school reached sustainability, Malala’s father dreamed of opening a second one. The school became the foundation of Malala’s upbringing, shaping her worldview and emphasizing the transformative power of education.
Chapter 5: A Bright Star Shines: Malala’s Journey as a Top Student
At the tender age of seven, Malala had established herself as a standout student, consistently topping her class. Her classmates admired her intelligence and turned to her for assistance whenever they faced difficulties. The corridors of the school echoed with the refrain “Malala is a genius girl,” a testament to her remarkable abilities.
Malala’s academic achievements were complemented by her active participation in various extracurricular activities. Whether it was badminton, drama, cricket, art, or even singing (despite her lack of skill), she eagerly immersed herself in every opportunity that came her way. Her enthusiasm and involvement showcased her vibrant spirit and thirst for knowledge beyond the confines of the classroom.
Chapter 6: Expanding Influence of Malala’s Father’s School
Malala’s father’s school thrived, expanding to three buildings across different locations. The original school in Landikas served as a primary school, complemented by separate high schools for girls and boys. Adjacent to the boys’ high school, a serene garden flourished near the remains of a Buddhist temple.
Despite financial challenges, the school accommodated approximately 800 local students. Malala’s father, committed to accessible education, provided over 100 tuition-free spots for underprivileged students and families.
As Malala’s father gained prominence, he became a respected figure in Swat. Without noble lineage or wealth, people eagerly attended his workshops and seminars, as he fearlessly criticized local authorities and even the powerful military, raising eyebrows among army commanders.
One issue that deeply troubled him was the prevalence of “ghost schools,” funded by the government but devoid of students. Wealthy individuals repurposed these buildings for personal use, drawing salaries and pensions without fulfilling their teaching obligations. Corruption and governance failures fueled his frustration, driving him to voice his concerns publicly.
In addition, he established the “Global Peace Council” in the region, focused on local environmental preservation, peace promotion, and education. Swat grappled with deforestation, air pollution, and limited access to clean drinking water. The organization aimed to safeguard the natural environment and foster peace and education within the community.
Chapter 7: Confrontation with the Mufti
Tensions began to escalate with the arrival of a self-proclaimed “mufti” in town, presenting himself as an Islamic scholar and authority on Islamic law. While Malala’s father’s school flourished, expanding with the addition of a new building, an unwelcome figure lurked in the background—the mufti.
Observing the daily comings and goings of girls at the school, particularly the teenagers, the mufti grew increasingly agitated. He approached the school’s landlady, urging her to reclaim the building from Ziauddin, claiming the school to be “haram” and a source of shame for the neighborhood. The mufti promised to establish his own school dedicated to teaching Islam, offering financial incentives and rewards in the afterlife for supporting the spread of Allah’s teachings.
Refusing to yield to the mufti’s demands, the landlady promptly informed Malala’s father about the brewing campaign against him. While she pledged not to surrender the school, she cautioned him to exercise caution to avoid further provocation.
One fateful night, the mufti gathered a group of influential individuals and elders from the neighborhood and descended upon Malala’s home. Seven people entered the house to confront her father. The mufti vehemently declared the girls’ school to be “haram” and blasphemy, asserting that girls should not receive an education. According to him, women were so sacred and private that not a single lady’s name appeared in the Quran, as God intended to keep them unnamed.
Malala’s father interjected, countering the mufti’s claims with evidence from the Quran, citing the example of Maryam, a revered woman mentioned throughout the holy book. The debate intensified as they argued over the significance of Maryam, ultimately proving her presence in the Quran.
Turning to the group of esteemed gentlemen, Malala’s father highlighted the mufti’s failure to respond to his greetings of “Assalamu alaikum” on the street, a gesture of utmost importance in Islam. The mufti’s embarrassed reaction revealed his disregard for proper Islamic etiquette.
Another member of the group accused Malala’s father of being an infidel, to which he emphatically responded, “Of course there are Qurans—I am a Muslim.” Eventually, the discussion returned to the topic of the school. The mufti expressed concerns about men witnessing girls entering the premises. In response, Malala’s father proposed a solution—a separate entrance gate for the girls. While the mufti remained dissatisfied, the compromise appeased the elders, prompting everyone to disperse, at least for the time being.
Stay tuned as we continue to unravel the challenges and triumphs of Malala Yousafzai’s inspiring journey, witnessing her resilience and unwavering commitment to education in the face of mounting opposition.
Part 2 – The Valley of Death
Malala was only ten years old when the Taliban infiltrated her valley, resembling nocturnal creatures emerging under cover of darkness. Armed with knives and Kalashnikovs, they appeared in Upper Swat, particularly in the hilly areas of Matta. Initially, they didn’t identify as Taliban nor resembled the Afghan Taliban seen in pictures. Instead, they wore black badges with “SHARIAT YA SHAHADAT” – Sharia Law or Martyrdom – and sometimes donned black turbans.
Leading their ranks was Maulana Sufi Mohammad, founder of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a group that had sent men to fight in Afghanistan. However, with Sufi Mohammad imprisoned in 2002, Maulana Fazlullah assumed control. At just 28 years old, Fazlullah operated an illegal radio station, seizing the opportunity to captivate the masses.
With limited access to television and low literacy rates, radio became the primary source of news and information. Fazlullah’s radio show, known as “Mullah FM,” quickly gained popularity, resonating with the discontent felt towards the corrupt government. Initially, he portrayed himself as a moderate voice, advocating for the rebuilding of their country and culture based on the teachings of the Quran.
However, as Fazlullah solidified his following, his rhetoric grew increasingly extreme. For instance, his followers prevented health workers from administering polio vaccinations, alleging an American plot to render Muslim women infertile and eradicate the Swat population. Fazlullah stated on the radio that such vaccinations went against Sharia law and adamantly proclaimed that no child in Swat would receive them.
Tensions Rising – Girls in School
As tensions heightened, the Taliban’s hostility towards women’s education became evident. Even from his jail cell, Sufi Mohammad adamantly declared that women should not receive education, dismissing the idea of Islamic female madrasas. He provocatively challenged anyone to provide historical evidence, daring them to “piss on his beard.”
Maulana Fazlullah, known as the Radio Mullah, shifted his focus to schools, condemning administrators and publicly applauding girls who abandoned their studies. He would personally congratulate individuals by name, affirming that they were destined for heaven. Those of us who persisted in attending school endured being scorned as buffaloes and sheep.
Confused by the Taliban’s opposition, I approached my father for answers. “Why don’t they want girls to go to school?” I asked. His response was simple yet profound: “They fear the power of education.”
The escalating restrictions extended beyond words. A math teacher at our school, known for his long hair, refused to teach girls. My father promptly dismissed him, but other concerned teachers pleaded with my father not to take action, fearing the consequences during these troubled times.
Each day brought new decrees from the Taliban. Beauty parlors were shuttered, and shaving was banned, leaving barbers without work. My father, who only sported a mustache, defiantly refused to grow a beard for the Taliban. Women were forbidden from going to the marketplace, which didn’t bother me personally as I didn’t enjoy shopping like my mother did. She lamented the loss of her beloved trips to the bustling Cheena Bazaar, where stalls adorned with fairy lights offered beautiful clothes, bangles, and henna in preparation for the Eid holidays.
The restrictions imposed by the Taliban went beyond inconvenience. Women faced intimidation and threats if they dared to venture out. Even a single Talib could instill fear in an entire village. As children, we also experienced the impact. Film releases, a source of joy during the holidays, came to a halt as Fazlullah closed DVD shops. My mother grew increasingly weary of Fazlullah’s preachings, particularly when he started denouncing education, proclaiming that attending school would condemn one to hell.
Extremism tightened its grip as Fazlullah’s influence grew more radical. Eid, the time for traditional animal sacrifices, became an opportunity for Fazlullah to declare, “On this Eid, we will sacrifice two-legged animals.”
His followers embarked on a terror campaign, targeting khans and political activists associated with secular and nationalist parties, particularly the Awami National Party (ANP). In January 2007, eighty masked gunmen kidnapped Malak Bakht Baidar, a close friend of one of my father’s acquaintances. Baidar, a member of a wealthy khan family and the local vice president of the ANP, was later found dumped in his family’s ancestral graveyard, his body bearing broken limbs. Speculations arose that his involvement in aiding the army in locating Taliban hideouts had made him a target.
The authorities turned a blind eye to these heinous crimes. Our provincial government, dominated by mullah parties, refrained from criticizing anyone claiming to fight for Islam. We initially believed Mingora, the largest town in Swat, offered safety. However, Fazlullah’s presence loomed a few miles away, infiltrating the markets, streets, and hills, gradually encroaching upon our daily lives.
Returning to school after Eid, a chilling message greeted us. It accused our school of embodying Western and infidel values, teaching girls, and enforcing an un-Islamic uniform. Threatening consequences and the suffering of our children, the letter was signed by the self-proclaimed “Fedayeen of Islam.”
In response, my father made a pivotal decision, changing the boys’ uniform from shirts and trousers to shalwar kameez, loose-fitting pajama-like trousers paired with a long shirt. As for us girls, we continued wearing royal-blue shalwar kameez with a white dupatta, or headscarf, advised to keep our heads covered when entering or leaving school.
Amidst mounting threats, my father found solace in the encouragement of his friend Hidayatullah. Hidayatullah urged him to stand firm, acknowledging his charisma and ability to speak out against the oppressive forces. “Life isn’t just about taking in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide,” he reminded him. “You can either passively accept everything from the Taliban or take a stand against them.”
With unwavering determination, my father penned a letter to the local newspaper, the Daily Azadi, addressing the “Fedayeen of Islam.” He pleaded with them, emphasizing their misguided approach and its misalignment with true Islam. He implored, “Please spare my children, as the God you believe in is the same God they pray to every day. Take my life if you must, but spare the lives of my schoolchildren.”
The response to my father’s letter was overwhelming. Numerous individuals reached out to express admiration and support. They commended him for laying the foundation for change, inspiring others to find the courage to raise their voices against the encroaching darkness of extremism.
Chapter 11: The Deepening Darkness
In the aftermath of the intense battle between the army and the Taliban, efforts were made to push the Taliban forces out of Pakistan and back into Afghanistan. The clashes were brutal, with both sides gaining and losing ground, leaving behind a trail of bloodshed and devastation.
Ultimately, the army emerged victorious, and the immediate threat of the Taliban subsided. However, it was a partial victory, as the Taliban still maintained a presence within the country. They were not completely eradicated, but rather lay dormant, waiting for an opportunity to resurge in the future.
Amidst this backdrop of uncertainty and lingering darkness, my father and I found ourselves standing at a critical juncture. The threat posed by the Taliban had only deepened, and their oppressive grip on our society tightened with each passing day.
It was during this time that my father’s courage and determination reached new heights. He refused to succumb to fear or surrender to the forces of extremism. Instead, he resolved to raise his voice against the injustices and fight for the rights of education and equality.
Inspired by his unwavering spirit, I too discovered my own reservoir of bravery. Together, we embarked on a journey that would test our resilience and push us to confront the darkest corners of our world.
In the face of mounting danger and opposition, we found solace in knowing that our struggle was not in vain. We were not alone in our fight. There were others who shared our vision for a better future, who yearned for peace and the right to education.
As the darkness deepened, our determination burned brighter. We were prepared to confront the challenges that lay ahead, to defy the forces that sought to suppress our voices. We knew that the road ahead would be treacherous, but we were ready to face it head-on.
The Impact on Education Under the Taliban Regime
As the conflict between the army and the Taliban persisted, our hopes of a quick resolution were shattered. The fighting continued, and the Taliban’s reach extended beyond targeting politicians and law enforcement. They now enforced their strict interpretation of Islamic customs, scrutinizing people’s adherence to purdah (the practice of female seclusion) and the appearance of their attire, including the length of beards and the style of shalwar kamiz (traditional clothing).
Amidst this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, it was the pursuit of education that provided solace and purpose in my life. However, even attending school became a dangerous endeavor. Every man I passed on the street seemed like a potential threat, possibly a talib. To protect ourselves, we concealed our school bags and books within our shawls, constantly vigilant of our surroundings.
In those dark days, wearing our school uniforms became a source of apprehension. The once-beloved sight of children in their school attire, which my father cherished, now invoked fear. We had advanced to high school, but finding teachers willing to instruct our class became a challenge. Our insatiable curiosity and penchant for asking questions deterred many educators. Yet, we took pride in being known as the clever girls, striving to defy the oppressive climate that sought to stifle our thirst for knowledge.
In a poignant display of resilience, even our moments of celebration and adornment were imbued with a commitment to learning. While others decorated their hands with henna patterns depicting flowers and butterflies, we sketched calculus equations and chemical formulae, emphasizing our dedication to academic pursuits even in the face of adversity.
The impact of the Taliban regime on education was profound, casting a shadow over our quest for knowledge. But we refused to succumb to their oppressive measures. We clung to the belief that education was our key to empowerment, a beacon of hope that would guide us through the darkest of times. Together, we persevered, defying the Taliban’s attempts to extinguish the light of learning and embracing the power of education to shape our future.
Army’s Victory but the War Rages On
Despite the military action that took place towards the end of 2007, it became evident that the army’s intervention had not succeeded in completely eradicating the Taliban presence. Though the army remained stationed in Swat, their presence permeating every corner of the town, Maulana Fazlullah’s voice continued to resonate through the airwaves, broadcasting his extremist messages on the radio. The year 2008 brought with it an escalation of violence, surpassing the previous levels of fear and instability, as bomb blasts and killings became all too common.
In those trying times, conversations revolved around the army and the Taliban, a constant reminder of the precarious position in which we found ourselves. As the people of Swat, we found ourselves caught in the middle, grappling with the contrasting narratives and struggling to distinguish the “good” from the “bad” sides.
In the face of such complexities, Malala offered a profound perspective. When faced with the divisive notion that one side was righteous while the other was not, she posed a question: “If there is a snake and a lion coming to attack us, what would we say is good, the snake or the lion?” This analogy encapsulated the reality of their situation, where neither side represented a clear-cut solution or ally.
The battle against the Taliban was far from over, despite the army’s initial victory. Swat remained embroiled in a relentless conflict, with the lives of its residents hanging in the balance. The struggle for peace and stability persisted, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the future and emphasizing the urgent need for a resolution that would bring an end to the violence and restore hope to the resilient people of Swat.
School Bombings and the Threat Within
In the midst of the horrors outside, our school offered solace. Yet, even within its walls, we were not safe. Maulana Fazlullah’s propaganda urged girls to stay at home, while the Taliban, under the cover of night curfews, targeted schools with bombings.
The first victim was Shawar Zangay, a government girls’ primary school in Matta. The shock of such an atrocity was followed by a relentless wave of bombings that struck almost daily. Mingora, our own town, was not spared. I experienced the tremors of two explosions in our kitchen, the fan crashing down.
These school bombings symbolized the Taliban’s ruthless campaign to extinguish the dreams of young girls. Yet, we refused to succumb to fear. We clung to education as our beacon of liberation, despite the relentless adversity. Our resilience burned bright.
The repercussions were felt throughout the region, leaving lasting scars. But our determination to defy the darkness and reclaim our right to learn grew stronger. We held onto hope, knowing that education was our path forward. With unwavering courage, we confronted the perils that awaited us.
Malala and Her Dad Speak Up
While most people remained silent, Malala’s dad detested the culture of complacency. In his pocket, he carried a poignant poem penned by Martin Niemöller, a man who had witnessed the rise of Nazi Germany. The words echoed the danger of apathy, and the need to speak out against injustice before it engulfs everyone.
Driven by her father’s unwavering spirit, Malala found herself in the midst of a media landscape. The vast array of screens in the news channel’s office left her astounded. She recognized the power of the media and the opportunity it presented to amplify the voices of young girls. But many were afraid, restrained by fear and hesitant parents.
However, Malala had a father who stood by her, unafraid and resolute. He affirmed her right to speak and encouraged her to seize the chance. As she gave interviews and shared her story, her resolve grew stronger, and support poured in. Despite her young age, the media was captivated by the unwavering determination of this courageous girl.
Deep within her heart, Malala held a steadfast belief that God would protect her. Speaking up for her rights and the rights of girls was not a wrongdoing but a duty she embraced. The Taliban could confiscate their pens and books, but they couldn’t suppress the power of their minds. Malala questioned why a single man like Fazlullah could cause such devastation, while one girl’s voice could be a catalyst for change. Each night, she fervently prayed for strength to continue her mission.
In the face of adversity, Malala emerged as a courageous force, challenging the norms and defying those who sought to silence her. With her unwavering determination, she was ready to confront the forces that sought to deny girls their right to education.
Girls Slowly Dropping Out of School
As January 2009 arrived, the number of girls in my class had dwindled from twenty-seven to a mere ten. Many of my friends had left the valley, seeking education in Peshawar. But my father stood firm, resolute in his belief that we should not abandon our beloved Swat.
“Swat has given us so much. In these challenging times, we must stand strong for our valley,” he declared. I shared his determination, refusing to give in to the oppressive demands of the Taliban. However, the Taliban’s deadline loomed closer, threatening to extinguish the educational aspirations of thousands of girls.
How could they halt the education of over 50,000 girls in the twenty-first century? I clung to the hope that something miraculous would intervene, allowing the schools to remain open. Yet, inevitably, the deadline approached, casting a shadow of uncertainty over our future.
But we were determined that our school, Khushal School, would defy the Taliban’s decree. We refused to let its bell be silenced. Even our school principal, Madam Maryam, had made the courageous decision to marry so she could remain in Swat. Her family had fled to Karachi, seeking refuge from the conflict. As a woman, she could not live alone, but she chose to remain and fight for education in our valley.
Malala Doing TV Interviews
On the morning of Wednesday, January 14, as my school closed, I found TV cameras in my bedroom. A journalist named Irfan Ashraf trailed me throughout my morning routine, capturing even the most intimate moments like my prayers and brushing my teeth. Originally, the documentary planned to focus on my father, but during our meeting, Irfan asked me a profound question: “What would you do if you couldn’t go back to your valley and school?” Overwhelmed with emotion, I responded with tears, and that became the turning point when they decided to shift the story’s focus to me.
Our uncle, staying with us at the time, repeatedly expressed concern over the risks of having cameras in our house. However, my father understood the potential power of this medium as our megaphone to the outside world. Though I had done numerous television interviews before, this was an entirely different experience. Irfan advised me to be natural, but it was challenging with a camera constantly trained on me, even as I brushed my teeth.
I showed the cameras the uniform I could no longer wear and expressed my fear of the Taliban’s brutal tactics, such as throwing acid at girls’ faces, as had happened in Afghanistan. When I returned home from my last day of school, I cried incessantly. The thought of no longer being able to learn devastated me. At only eleven years old, it felt as though I had lost everything. I had confidently told my classmates that the Taliban wouldn’t follow through with their threats, comparing them to our politicians who merely talked but took no action. But when they closed our school, I felt embarrassed and inconsolable. Despite our tears, my father remained resolute, insisting that I would continue my education.
That night, the sound of artillery fire filled the air, causing me to wake up multiple times. The following morning, everything had changed. I contemplated going to Peshawar or even abroad. I considered asking our teachers to establish a secret school in our home, just as some Afghans had done during the Taliban rule. In the aftermath, I sought every opportunity to appear on radio and TV channels, determined to make our voices heard.
“They can stop us from going to school, but they can’t stop us from learning,” I declared. Though my words sounded hopeful, deep down, I felt a lingering sense of worry. My father and I traveled to Peshawar, visiting various places to inform people about the situation. I spoke about the irony of the Taliban’s desire for female teachers and doctors for women while simultaneously denying girls the right to education to pursue those professions. I emphasized that education transcends boundaries of culture and geography—it is a fundamental human right.
My mother, concerned for my safety, would urge me to hide my face when interacting with the media, as I was young and should be protected within purdah. However, she never prohibited me from speaking out. It was a time of horror and fear, with people acknowledging the possibility of harm to my father but assuring me that the Taliban wouldn’t target a child like me, stating, “Malala is a child, and even the Taliban don’t kill children.”
More School Bombings
Just four days after the ban on girls’ schools was implemented, an additional blow struck when five more schools were destroyed. I couldn’t understand the rationale behind targeting these already closed schools for further demolition. It seemed senseless and cruel.
The Taliban’s deadline had passed, and no girls were attending school anymore. Despite this violation of our basic right to education, the army remained passive, taking no action to address the situation. They seemed content to stay in their bunkers atop the hills, indulging in their own pleasures, such as slaughtering goats and feasting.
People gathered to witness the floggings announced on Mullah FM, the illegal radio station operated by Fazlullah. However, the police were conspicuously absent, neglecting their duty to uphold law and order. The situation was disheartening and alarming, as the forces that should have protected us and upheld justice seemed absent and indifferent.
Back to School
Despite the initial blanket ban on girls attending school, there was mounting pressure from the public to ease the Taliban’s harsh rules. The collective voice of the country proved powerful, and eventually, Fazlullah agreed to lift the ban for girls up to ten years old, allowing them to attend school up to Year 4.
Malala, who was in Year 5, and her friends resorted to pretending to be younger than they actually were in order to continue their education. It was a risky endeavor, but going to school again was the only aspiration they had at that time.
Dressed in ordinary clothes and concealing their books under their shawls, they cautiously made their way to school. Their determination to learn was strong, and they were fortunate to have Madam Maryam, their school principal, who displayed bravery by resisting the pressure to halt their education. With a deep-rooted trust between Malala’s father and Madam Maryam, they found solace in each other’s support.
The secret school became their silent protest against the oppressive regime. In those days, their fear was not of supernatural entities but of their fellow human beings, highlighting the challenging and tense environment in which they lived.
As the Taliban’s influence spread and the army intensified their attacks, Swat transformed into an incredibly dangerous place. The escalating violence reached a point where everyone residing in the region was instructed to evacuate for their own safety. The exodus commenced, with a staggering 1.8 million people forced to flee their homes and embark on a journey across the country in search of refuge and security. The displacement of such a large population further underscored the gravity of the situation and the harrowing impact of the conflict on the lives of ordinary people.
Part 3: Three Girls, Three Bullets
The course of fate took a dramatic turn on Tuesday, 9 October 2012, a day overshadowed by school exams. As a studious girl, exams didn’t bother me much, unlike some of my classmates. On that fateful day, our school bus made its second trip, and my friend Moniba suggested we stay behind at school to chat before heading home. Feeling relieved that my Pakistan Studies exam had gone well, I agreed, blissfully unaware of the impending tragedy.
During our break, I felt hungry but was unable to venture outside due to security measures. Instead, I requested one of the younger girls to buy me a corn cob, of which I ate a small portion before passing it on to another girl. As it neared time to leave, we all hurriedly descended the steps. The other girls veiled their faces before stepping out onto the street and boarding the back of the bus. I wore my scarf over my head but never covered my face.
While waiting for two teachers to arrive, I asked Usman Bhai Jan, our driver, to share a joke. He was known for his collection of hilarious stories. However, that day he surprised us with a magic trick, making a pebble disappear. Curiosity piqued, we all begged him to reveal the secret, but he refused.
As we embarked on our journey, we noticed an unusual silence engulfing the usually busy road leading up the small hill. Curiously, I asked Moniba, “Where are all the people?” Amidst the girls’ laughter and chatter, our voices reverberated inside the bus. Our view ahead was obstructed, but suddenly, a young bearded man in light-colored clothes stepped onto the road, signaling our van to stop.
“Is this the Khushal School bus?” he asked our driver.
Usman Bhai Jan found the question rather foolish, given that the school’s name was clearly displayed on the side of the vehicle. “Yes,” he replied.
“I need information about some children,” the man stated.
“You should go to the office,” advised Usman Bhai Jan.
As this exchange unfolded, another young man dressed in white approached the back of the van. Moniba quipped, “Look, it’s one of those journalists coming to ask for an interview.” Since I had started speaking at events alongside my father, advocating for girls’ education and raising awareness about the Taliban’s oppression, journalists often sought interviews, including foreigners. However, this encounter on the road felt different.
The man wore a peaked cap and had a handkerchief covering his nose and mouth, as if he were suffering from a cold. He resembled a college student. Suddenly, he hoisted himself onto the tailboard and leaned over us.
He demanded, “Who is Malala?”
Silence enveloped the bus, but several girls glanced in my direction. I was the only one with my face uncovered. It was then that he revealed a black pistol, later identified as a Colt 45. Some girls screamed, and according to my friends, I tightly squeezed Moniba’s hand.
In swift succession, the gunman fired three shots. The first bullet pierced through my left eye socket, exiting under my left shoulder. I collapsed forward onto Moniba, blood flowing from my left ear, while the other two bullets struck the girls seated beside me. One bullet pierced Shazia’s left hand, and the third penetrated her left shoulder, grazing the upper right arm of Kainat Riaz.
Later, my friends recounted that the gunman’s hand trembled as he discharged the shots. As we arrived at the hospital, blood had soaked my long hair and Moniba’s lap, serving as a grim testimony to the harrowing experience.
Part 4: Between Life and Death
Chapter 21: TAKEN TO HOSPITAL AFTER SHOT
As soon as Usman Bhai Jan comprehended the gravity of the situation, he accelerated the dyna, racing towards Swat Central Hospital. Amidst the chaos, the other girls were overcome with screams and tears. I lay on Moniba’s lap, my head and left ear bleeding profusely.
Our journey was abruptly interrupted when a policeman halted the van, bombarding us with questions, causing precious time to slip away. Amidst the commotion, one girl checked my pulse and exclaimed, “She’s alive! We must get her to the hospital. Leave us alone and apprehend the man responsible for this!”
Helicopter to the Big Hospital
The local hospital was ill-equipped to handle the gravity of Malala’s injury, necessitating her transfer via ambulance to the helipad. From there, a helicopter would transport her to a major hospital in a bustling city. The journey was fraught with danger as Malala, inside the helicopter, continued to vomit blood. Her father’s distress grew, fearing the worst—internal bleeding. With hope slipping away, a glimmer of optimism emerged when Maryam, the school principal, observed Malala’s feeble attempt to wipe her mouth with her scarf. “Look, she is responding!” Maryam exclaimed, recognizing it as an encouraging sign.
Chapter 22: A Desperate Fight for Survival
The fateful day of the shooting was etched in Malala’s father’s memory. Within two days, his despair grew so profound that he began preparations for her funeral, convinced of her imminent demise. Malala was placed in a medically induced coma, her condition rapidly deteriorating. Swollen, connected to numerous tubes, and on the brink of organ failure, she appeared lifeless in the small glass cubicle. The security measures surrounding her were stringent, barring even the Prime Minister from visiting her. The Taliban’s ability to infiltrate heavily guarded military installations had heightened concerns.
It was determined that seeking medical treatment abroad offered Malala the best chance of survival. Given the ongoing tensions between Pakistan and the United States, the decision was made for her to travel to the UK instead. With armed escort, she was transported to the airport in the early hours of Monday, October 15. Snipers positioned themselves atop buildings along the route to ensure maximum security. To avoid any perception of foreign involvement, the UAE royal family lent the plane for her journey.
Despite the luxurious accommodations onboard, including a plush double bed, sixteen first-class seats, and a mini-hospital staffed with European nurses led by a German doctor, Malala regretted being unconscious and unable to appreciate the amenities. The plane made a stop in Abu Dhabi for refueling before continuing its journey to Birmingham, where it landed in the late afternoon.
Part 5: A Second Life
Chapter 23: A Reawakening in Birmingham
On October 16, one week after the shooting, Malala regained consciousness in Birmingham. She found herself thousands of miles away from her homeland, connected to a breathing tube that impeded her ability to speak.
Taliban Plan Backfires
Malala reflected on how the actions of the Taliban had inadvertently propelled her campaign for education and women’s rights to a global level. While she lay in her hospital bed, waiting to embark on a new journey, she learned that Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for education, had launched a petition called “I am Malala” to advocate for universal access to education by 2015. Messages of support poured in from heads of state, ministers, celebrities, and even the granddaughter of a former British governor of their province. Icons like Beyoncé, Selena Gomez, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie expressed their solidarity with Malala and her cause. The Taliban’s attempt to silence her had only amplified her voice and garnered international attention.
A Second Life’s Purpose
Reflecting on her miraculous survival, Malala acknowledged the power of good and bad choices that individuals make. In a split second, a bullet had changed her life, affecting her brain, hearing, and the nerves on the left side of her face. However, in that same moment, millions of people began praying for her recovery, and skilled doctors worked tirelessly to restore her physical abilities.
Malala’s deep desire to help others had always been the driving force behind her actions. It wasn’t about fame or wealth; she simply wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives. The fact that she, along with her friends, survived a targeted attack by the Taliban seemed improbable to many, leading some to believe in a miraculous recovery. Shazia, who was also injured in the attack, received a scholarship to study in Wales, and Malala hoped that their friend Kainat would join them soon.
Malala believed that her survival was not a coincidence but a result of divine intervention. She considered her second life as a gift and a calling to use her experiences and platform to serve others. The prayers and support she received reinforced her belief in the importance of making a difference in the world.
In conclusion, Malala has witnessed profound changes since the tragic shooting incident, with awards adorning her living room as a testament to her tireless advocacy. As the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominee, she remains committed to fighting for education.
Malala acknowledges the ongoing work needed, striving for universal access to education for all children. Her United Nations speech resonated worldwide, shedding light on the millions of children, especially girls, deprived of education. Tragic attacks on schools emphasize the urgency for change.
Malala’s mission is clear: education for every child. Her vision is a world where children experience the joy of learning, empowering them to embrace a brighter future.